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Recent scholarship tend to emphasizes the testimony of Zosimus, who traced the alchemical arts back to Egyptian metallurgical and ceremonial practices.

While critical of the kind alchemy he associated with the Egyptian priests and their followers, Zosimos nonetheless saw the tradition's recent past as rooted in the rites of the Egyptian temples.

Mythology — Zosimos of Panopolis asserted that alchemy dated back to Pharaonic Egypt where it was the domain of the priestly class, though there is little to no evidence for his assertion.

His name is derived from the god Thoth and his Greek counterpart Hermes. Hermes and his caduceus or serpent-staff, were among alchemy's principal symbols.

According to Clement of Alexandria , he wrote what were called the "forty-two books of Hermes", covering all fields of knowledge. These writings were collected in the first centuries of the common era.

Few original Egyptian documents on alchemy have survived, most notable among them the Stockholm papyrus and the Leyden papyrus X. Philosophy — Alexandria acted as a melting pot for philosophies of Pythagoreanism , Platonism , Stoicism and Gnosticism which formed the origin of alchemy's character.

According to Aristotle, each element had a sphere to which it belonged and to which it would return if left undisturbed.

True alchemy never regarded earth, air, water, and fire as corporeal or chemical substances in the present-day sense of the word.

The four elements are simply the primary, and most general, qualities by means of which the amorphous and purely quantitative substance of all bodies first reveals itself in differentiated form.

Alchemy coexisted alongside emerging Christianity. Lactantius believed Hermes Trismegistus had prophesied its birth. Others authors such as Komarios, and Chymes , we only know through fragments of text.

The 2nd millennium BC text Vedas describe a connection between eternal life and gold. According to some scholars Greek alchemy may have influenced Indian alchemy but there are no hard evidences to back this claim.

This art was restricted to certain operations, metals, drugs, compounds, and medicines, many of which have mercury as their core element.

Its principles restored the health of those who were ill beyond hope and gave back youth to fading old age. Some early alchemical writings seem to have their origins in the Kaula tantric schools associated to the teachings of the personality of Matsyendranath.

His book, Rasendramangalam , is an example of Indian alchemy and medicine. The contents of 39 Sanskrit alchemical treatises have been analysed in detail in G.

In some cases Meulenbeld gives notes on the contents and authorship of these works; in other cases references are made only to the unpublished manuscripts of these titles.

A great deal remains to be discovered about Indian alchemical literature. The content of the Sanskrit alchemical corpus has not yet been adequately integrated into the wider general history of alchemy.

Much more is known about Islamic alchemy because it was better documented: indeed, most of the earlier writings that have come down through the years were preserved as Arabic translations.

The early Islamic world was a melting pot for alchemy. Platonic and Aristotelian thought, which had already been somewhat appropriated into hermetical science, continued to be assimilated during the late 7th and early 8th centuries through Syriac translations and scholarship.

The science historian, Paul Kraus, wrote:. To form an idea of the historical place of Jabir's alchemy and to tackle the problem of its sources, it is advisable to compare it with what remains to us of the alchemical literature in the Greek language.

One knows in which miserable state this literature reached us. Collected by Byzantine scientists from the tenth century, the corpus of the Greek alchemists is a cluster of incoherent fragments, going back to all the times since the third century until the end of the Middle Ages.

The efforts of Berthelot and Ruelle to put a little order in this mass of literature led only to poor results, and the later researchers, among them in particular Mrs.

The study of the Greek alchemists is not very encouraging. An even surface examination of the Greek texts shows that a very small part only was organized according to true experiments of laboratory: even the supposedly technical writings, in the state where we find them today, are unintelligible nonsense which refuses any interpretation.

It is different with Jabir's alchemy. The relatively clear description of the processes and the alchemical apparati, the methodical classification of the substances, mark an experimental spirit which is extremely far away from the weird and odd esotericism of the Greek texts.

The theory on which Jabir supports his operations is one of clearness and of an impressive unity. More than with the other Arab authors, one notes with him a balance between theoretical teaching and practical teaching, between the 'ilm and the amal.

In vain one would seek in the Greek texts a work as systematic as that which is presented, for example, in the Book of Seventy.

The first essential in chemistry is that thou shouldest perform practical work and conduct experiments, for he who performs not practical work nor makes experiments will never attain to the least degree of mastery.

The discovery that aqua regia , a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids, could dissolve the noblest metal, gold, was to fuel the imagination of alchemists for the next millennium.

Islamic philosophers also made great contributions to alchemical hermeticism. The most influential author in this regard was arguably Jabir.

Jabir's ultimate goal was Takwin , the artificial creation of life in the alchemical laboratory, up to, and including, human life.

He analyzed each Aristotelian element in terms of four basic qualities of hotness , coldness , dryness , and moistness.

For example, lead was externally cold and dry, while gold was hot and moist. Thus, Jabir theorized, by rearranging the qualities of one metal, a different metal would result.

Jabir developed an elaborate numerology whereby the root letters of a substance's name in Arabic, when treated with various transformations, held correspondences to the element's physical properties.

The elemental system used in medieval alchemy also originated with Jabir. His original system consisted of seven elements, which included the five classical elements aether , air , earth , fire , and water in addition to two chemical elements representing the metals: sulphur , "the stone which burns", which characterized the principle of combustibility, and mercury , which contained the idealized principle of metallic properties.

Shortly thereafter, this evolved into eight elements, with the Arabic concept of the three metallic principles: sulphur giving flammability or combustion, mercury giving volatility and stability, and salt giving solidity.

In particular, they wrote refutations against the idea of the transmutation of metals. Whereas European alchemy eventually centered on the transmutation of base metals into noble metals, Chinese alchemy had a more obvious connection to medicine.

The philosopher's stone of European alchemists can be compared to the Grand Elixir of Immortality sought by Chinese alchemists.

However, in the hermetic view, these two goals were not unconnected, and the philosopher's stone was often equated with the universal panacea ; therefore, the two traditions may have had more in common than initially appears.

Black powder may have been an important invention of Chinese alchemists. As previously stated above, Chinese alchemy was more related to medicine.

It is said that the Chinese invented gunpowder while trying to find a potion for eternal life. Described in 9th-century texts [ citation needed ] and used in fireworks in China by the 10th century, [ citation needed ] it was used in cannons by Gunpowder was used by the Mongols against the Hungarians in , and in Europe by the 14th century.

Chinese alchemy was closely connected to Taoist forms of traditional Chinese medicine , such as Acupuncture and Moxibustion.

In the early Song dynasty , followers of this Taoist idea chiefly the elite and upper class would ingest mercuric sulfide , which, though tolerable in low levels, led many to suicide.

The introduction of alchemy to Latin Europe may be dated to 11 February , with the completion of Robert of Chester 's translation of the Arabic Book of the Composition of Alchemy.

Although European craftsmen and technicians preexisted, Robert notes in his preface that alchemy was unknown in Latin Europe at the time of his writing.

The translation of Arabic texts concerning numerous disciplines including alchemy flourished in 12th-century Toledo, Spain , through contributors like Gerard of Cremona and Adelard of Bath.

These brought with them many new words to the European vocabulary for which there was no previous Latin equivalent. Alcohol, carboy, elixir, and athanor are examples.

Meanwhile, theologian contemporaries of the translators made strides towards the reconciliation of faith and experimental rationalism, thereby priming Europe for the influx of alchemical thought.

In the early 12th century, Peter Abelard followed Anselm's work, laying down the foundation for acceptance of Aristotelian thought before the first works of Aristotle had reached the West.

In the early 13th century, Robert Grosseteste used Abelard's methods of analysis and added the use of observation, experimentation, and conclusions when conducting scientific investigations.

Grosseteste also did much work to reconcile Platonic and Aristotelian thinking. Through much of the 12th and 13th centuries, alchemical knowledge in Europe remained centered on translations, and new Latin contributions were not made.

The efforts of the translators were succeeded by that of the encyclopaedists. In the 13th century, Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon were the most notable of these, their work summarizing and explaining the newly imported alchemical knowledge in Aristotelian terms.

Albertus critically compared these to the writings of Aristotle and Avicenna, where they concerned the transmutation of metals. From the time shortly after his death through to the 15th century, more than 28 alchemical tracts were misattributed to him, a common practice giving rise to his reputation as an accomplished alchemist.

Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar who wrote on a wide variety of topics including optics , comparative linguistics , and medicine, composed his Great Work Latin : Opus Majus for Pope Clement IV as part of a project towards rebuilding the medieval university curriculum to include the new learning of his time.

While alchemy was not more important to him than other sciences and he did not produce allegorical works on the topic, he did consider it and astrology to be important parts of both natural philosophy and theology and his contributions advanced alchemy's connections to soteriology and Christian theology.

Bacon's writings integrated morality, salvation, alchemy, and the prolongation of life. His correspondence with Clement highlighted this, noting the importance of alchemy to the papacy.

He noted that the theoretical lay outside the scope of Aristotle, the natural philosophers, and all Latin writers of his time. The practical, however, confirmed the theoretical thought experiment, and Bacon advocated its uses in natural science and medicine.

In particular, along with Albertus Magnus, he was credited with the forging of a brazen head capable of answering its owner's questions.

Soon after Bacon, the influential work of Pseudo-Geber sometimes identified as Paul of Taranto appeared.

His Summa Perfectionis remained a staple summary of alchemical practice and theory through the medieval and renaissance periods.

It was notable for its inclusion of practical chemical operations alongside sulphur-mercury theory, and the unusual clarity with which they were described.

Adepts believed in the macrocosm-microcosm theories of Hermes, that is to say, they believed that processes that affect minerals and other substances could have an effect on the human body for example, if one could learn the secret of purifying gold, one could use the technique to purify the human soul.

They believed in the four elements and the four qualities as described above, and they had a strong tradition of cloaking their written ideas in a labyrinth of coded jargon set with traps to mislead the uninitiated.

Finally, the alchemists practiced their art: they actively experimented with chemicals and made observations and theories about how the universe operated.

Their entire philosophy revolved around their belief that man's soul was divided within himself after the fall of Adam. By purifying the two parts of man's soul, man could be reunited with God.

In the 14th century, alchemy became more accessible to Europeans outside the confines of Latin speaking churchmen and scholars.

Alchemical discourse shifted from scholarly philosophical debate to an exposed social commentary on the alchemists themselves. Pope John XXII 's edict, Spondent quas non-exhibent forbade the false promises of transmutation made by pseudo-alchemists.

These critiques and regulations centered more around pseudo-alchemical charlatanism than the actual study of alchemy, which continued with an increasingly Christian tone.

The 14th century saw the Christian imagery of death and resurrection employed in the alchemical texts of Petrus Bonus , John of Rupescissa , and in works written in the name of Raymond Lull and Arnold of Villanova.

Nicolas Flamel is a well-known alchemist, but a good example of pseudepigraphy , the practice of giving your works the name of someone else, usually more famous.

Although the historical Flamel existed, the writings and legends assigned to him only appeared in His work spends a great deal of time describing the processes and reactions, but never actually gives the formula for carrying out the transmutations.

Most of 'his' work was aimed at gathering alchemical knowledge that had existed before him, especially as regarded the philosopher's stone. Bernard Trevisan and George Ripley made similar contributions.

Their cryptic allusions and symbolism led to wide variations in interpretation of the art. During the Renaissance , Hermetic and Platonic foundations were restored to European alchemy.

The dawn of medical, pharmaceutical, occult, and entrepreneurial branches of alchemy followed. These were previously unavailable to Europeans who for the first time had a full picture of the alchemical theory that Bacon had declared absent.

Renaissance Humanism and Renaissance Neoplatonism guided alchemists away from physics to refocus on mankind as the alchemical vessel. Esoteric systems developed that blended alchemy into a broader occult Hermeticism, fusing it with magic, astrology, and Christian cabala.

He was instrumental in spreading this new blend of Hermeticism outside the borders of Italy. Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus , Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, — cast alchemy into a new form, rejecting some of Agrippa's occultism and moving away from chrysopoeia.

Paracelsus pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine and wrote, "Many have said of Alchemy, that it is for the making of gold and silver.

For me such is not the aim, but to consider only what virtue and power may lie in medicines. His hermetical views were that sickness and health in the body relied on the harmony of man the microcosm and Nature the macrocosm.

He took an approach different from those before him, using this analogy not in the manner of soul-purification but in the manner that humans must have certain balances of minerals in their bodies, and that certain illnesses of the body had chemical remedies that could cure them.

John Dee 13 July — December, followed Agrippa's occult tradition. Although better known for angel summoning, divination, and his role as astrologer , cryptographer, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I , Dee's alchemical [84] Monas Hieroglyphica , written in was his most popular and influential work.

His writing portrayed alchemy as a sort of terrestrial astronomy in line with the Hermetic axiom As above so below. Proponents of the supernatural interpretation of alchemy believed that the philosopher's stone might be used to summon and communicate with angels.

Entrepreneurial opportunities were common for the alchemists of Renaissance Europe. Alchemists were contracted by the elite for practical purposes related to mining, medical services, and the production of chemicals, medicines, metals, and gemstones.

Although most of these appointments were legitimate, the trend of pseudo-alchemical fraud continued through the Renaissance.

Betrüger would use sleight of hand, or claims of secret knowledge to make money or secure patronage. Legitimate mystical and medical alchemists such as Michael Maier and Heinrich Khunrath wrote about fraudulent transmutations, distinguishing themselves from the con artists.

The terms "chemia" and "alchemia" were used as synonyms in the early modern period, and the differences between alchemy, chemistry and small-scale assaying and metallurgy were not as neat as in the present day.

There were important overlaps between practitioners, and trying to classify them into alchemists, chemists and craftsmen is anachronistic.

Sendivogious taught his technique to Cornelius Drebbel who, in , applied this in a submarine. Isaac Newton devoted considerably more of his writing to the study of alchemy see Isaac Newton's occult studies than he did to either optics or physics.

Other early modern alchemists who were eminent in their other studies include Robert Boyle , and Jan Baptist van Helmont.

Their Hermeticism complemented rather than precluded their practical achievements in medicine and science.

The decline of European alchemy was brought about by the rise of modern science with its emphasis on rigorous quantitative experimentation and its disdain for "ancient wisdom".

Although the seeds of these events were planted as early as the 17th century, alchemy still flourished for some two hundred years, and in fact may have reached its peak in the 18th century.

As late as James Price claimed to have produced a powder that could transmute mercury into silver or gold. Early modern European alchemy continued to exhibit a diversity of theories, practices, and purposes: "Scholastic and anti-Aristotelian, Paracelsian and anti-Paracelsian, Hermetic, Neoplatonic, mechanistic, vitalistic, and more—plus virtually every combination and compromise thereof.

Robert Boyle — pioneered the scientific method in chemical investigations. He assumed nothing in his experiments and compiled every piece of relevant data.

Boyle would note the place in which the experiment was carried out, the wind characteristics, the position of the Sun and Moon, and the barometer reading, all just in case they proved to be relevant.

Beginning around , a rigid distinction began to be drawn for the first time between "alchemy" and "chemistry". This move was mostly successful, and the consequences of this continued into the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

During the occult revival of the early 19th century, alchemy received new attention as an occult science. In the 19th-century revival of alchemy, the two most seminal figures were Mary Anne Atwood and Ethan Allen Hitchcock , who independently published similar works regarding spiritual alchemy.

Both forwarded a completely esoteric view of alchemy, as Atwood claimed: "No modern art or chemistry, notwithstanding all its surreptitious claims, has any thing in common with Alchemy.

Hitchcock, in his Remarks Upon Alchymists attempted to make a case for his spiritual interpretation with his claim that the alchemists wrote about a spiritual discipline under a materialistic guise in order to avoid accusations of blasphemy from the church and state.

In , Baron Carl Reichenbach , published his studies on Odic force , a concept with some similarities to alchemy, but his research did not enter the mainstream of scientific discussion.

In his lineage, many researchers, including Emmanuel and Charles d'Hooghvorst, are updating alchemical studies in France and Belgium. Several women appear in the earliest history of alchemy.

Michael Maier names Mary the Jewess , Cleopatra the Alchemist , Medera , and Taphnutia as the four women who knew how to make the philosopher's stone.

The first alchemist whose name we know is said to have been Mary the Jewess c. The laboratory water-bath, known eponymously especially in France as the bain-marie , is said to have been invented or at least improved by her.

The tribikos a modified distillation apparatus and the kerotakis a more intricate apparatus used especially for sublimations are two other advancements in the process of distillation that are credited to her.

Due to the proliferation of pseudepigrapha and anonymous works, it is difficult to know which of the alchemists were actually women.

After the Greco-Roman period, women's names appear less frequently in the alchemical literature. Women vacate the history of alchemy during the medieval and renaissance periods, aside from the fictitious account of Perenelle Flamel.

Mary Anne Atwood 's A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery marks their return during the nineteenth-century occult revival.

The history of alchemy has become a significant and recognized subject of academic study. A large collection of books on alchemy is kept in the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam.

A recipe found in a midth-century kabbalah based book features step by step instructions on turning copper into gold. The author attributed this recipe to an ancient manuscript he located.

Journals which publish regularly on the topic of Alchemy include ' Ambix ', published by the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry, and ' Isis ', published by The History of Science Society.

Western alchemical theory corresponds to the worldview of late antiquity in which it was born. Concepts were imported from Neoplatonism and earlier Greek cosmology.

As such, the Classical elements appear in alchemical writings, as do the seven Classical planets and the corresponding seven metals of antiquity.

Similarly, the gods of the Roman pantheon who are associated with these luminaries are discussed in alchemical literature.

The concepts of prima materia and anima mundi are central to the theory of the philosopher's stone.

In the eyes of a variety of esoteric and Hermetic practitioners, alchemy is fundamentally spiritual. Transmutation of lead into gold is presented as an analogy for personal transmutation, purification, and perfection.

He is named "alchemy's founder and chief patron, authority, inspiration and guide". Early alchemists, such as Zosimos of Panopolis c. AD , highlight the spiritual nature of the alchemical quest, symbolic of a religious regeneration of the human soul.

In this sense, the literal meanings of 'Alchemical Formulas' were a blind, hiding their true spiritual philosophy.

Applied to the alchemist himself, the twin goal symbolized his evolution from ignorance to enlightenment, and the stone represented a hidden spiritual truth or power that would lead to that goal.

In texts that are written according to this view, the cryptic alchemical symbols , diagrams, and textual imagery of late alchemical works typically contain multiple layers of meanings, allegories, and references to other equally cryptic works; and must be laboriously decoded to discover their true meaning.

When the Philosophers speak of gold and silver, from which they extract their matter, are we to suppose that they refer to the vulgar gold and silver?

By no means; vulgar silver and gold are dead, while those of the Philosophers are full of life. Due to the complexity and obscurity of alchemical literature, and the 18th-century disappearance of remaining alchemical practitioners into the area of chemistry; the general understanding of alchemy has been strongly influenced by several distinct and radically different interpretations.

Principe and William R. Newman , have interpreted the 'decknamen' or code words of alchemy as physical substances. These scholars have reconstructed physicochemical experiments that they say are described in medieval and early modern texts.

Today new interpretations of alchemy are still perpetuated, sometimes merging in concepts from New Age or radical environmentalism movements.

Since the Victorian revival of alchemy, "occultists reinterpreted alchemy as a spiritual practice, involving the self-transformation of the practitioner and only incidentally or not at all the transformation of laboratory substances", [91] which has contributed to a merger of magic and alchemy in popular thought.

Traditional medicine can use the concept of the transmutation of natural substances, using pharmacological or a combination of pharmacological and spiritual techniques.

In Ayurveda , the samskaras are claimed to transform heavy metals and toxic herbs in a way that removes their toxicity. These processes are actively used to the present day.

Spagyrists of the 20th century, Albert Richard Riedel and Jean Dubuis, merged Paracelsian alchemy with occultism, teaching laboratory pharmaceutical methods.

The schools they founded, Les Philosophes de la Nature and The Paracelsus Research Society , popularized modern spagyrics including the manufacture of herbal tinctures and products.

Alchemical symbolism has been important in depth and analytical psychology and was revived and popularized from near extinction by the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung.

Initially confounded and at odds with alchemy and its images, after being given a copy of the translation of The Secret of the Golden Flower , a Chinese alchemical text, by his friend Richard Wilhelm, Jung discovered a direct correlation or parallels between the symbolic images in the alchemical drawings and the inner, symbolic images coming up in dreams, visions or imaginations during the psychic processes of transformation occurring in his patients.

A process, which he called "process of individuation". He regarded the alchemical images as symbols expressing aspects of this "process of individuation " of which the creation of the gold or lapis within were symbols for its origin and goal.

The volumes of work he wrote brought new light into understanding the art of transubstantiation and renewed alchemy's popularity as a symbolic process of coming into wholeness as a human being where opposites brought into contact and inner and outer, spirit and matter are reunited in the hieros gamos or divine marriage.

His writings are influential in psychology and for persons who have an interest in understanding the importance of dreams, symbols and the unconscious archetypal forces archetypes [] [] [] that influence all of life.

Both von Franz and Jung have contributed greatly to the subject and work of alchemy and its continued presence in psychology as well as contemporary culture.

Jung wrote volumes on alchemy and his magnum opus is Volume 14 of his Collected Works, Mysterium Coniunctionis.

Little Alchemy Book